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My Lords, I am grateful to be able to have this debate this evening on volunteering. I am touched by the number of other noble Lords who wish to speak. I am sorry that they have been allocated only two minutes, but I was beginning to think we were not going to get anything.
Every day, all across the world, millions of people give up their time in the service of others. Across our own country, school governors, magistrates, charity trustees and thousands of others make an invaluable contribution to public life, which is often hidden from view. Volunteering is the glue that holds together many of our communities. It helps to build a vibrant civil society and, along with that, more social cohesion, well-being and social capital. Volunteering has certainly enriched my life, and several of the charities that I am now involved with are blessed with volunteers who contribute to their work but also help to hold the charity accountable and feed into its culture.
This week is student volunteering week and Changing Lives, the charity that I chair based in Tyneside, works widely with people with complex needs. We have great experience of students volunteering and sometimes then becoming sessional workers, or even working full-time for us—a side of students that does not often hit the news.
When I was 21, I spent two years volunteering in Kenya with Voluntary Service Overseas. The experience was life-changing for me. One thing that it did was to make it very clear that you really can make a difference—you just have to decide that is what you are going to do. I have been re-involved with VSO over the last 10 years in various governance roles. My experience is not unique. VSO recently surveyed over 3,000 of its former volunteers from across the globe to find out more about the long-term impacts of volunteering. Over 80% of them said that their experiences had made them more confident and resilient, and 50% of them were more socially active as a result of volunteering, contributing more to their local communities when they returned from their placements.
In drawing up the sustainable development goals, the UN recognised the importance of the vital contribution of volunteers to the delivery of those goals, which all nations, including our own, have signed up to. The Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex did some ground-breaking research over two years with VSO which looked at the specific ways in which volunteers make a contribution to international development. This research found that there is a special role that volunteers as outsiders play. They can bring new ideas which spark innovation within the organisation and within the community. Volunteers inspire change, not just by what they do but by how they do it, through building trust and social capital. That helps to strengthen local ownership of the work, meaning that there is lasting change after the volunteers leave.
Volunteers can help to challenge some deep-rooted cultural practices and attitudes; for example, on gender equality—is that not something we still need today? Volunteers also help to get to places that others cannot, to extend and improve the reach of public services. Cath Nixon, a public health nurse from Manchester, spent two years in remote communities in Nepal training community health workers and supporting local women’s groups to advocate for better local healthcare, meaning that those communities could, for the first time, receive treatment locally rather than having to walk for several hours to the nearest clinic. That is but one of many examples that I could give; sadly, we do not have the time.
Finally, the research found—and I do not think that this will be a surprise to many in this debate—that volunteering is often the first step that people take towards becoming actively involved in their own communities and societies. It is often the beginning of a long journey of social action and active citizenship. There is a UK government-funded programme for young people that brings all these elements to life called International Citizen Service, which enables young people from the UK together to volunteer alongside young people from developing countries for three months. The programme has proven to be a great success both for the communities where the volunteers are placed and for its lasting impact on the personal and professional development of the young volunteers who take part. In Bangladesh, ICS volunteers have worked with the local community to set up child marriage prevention committees, stopping many young girls being married off at a young age. In Nigeria, volunteers have helped to get out-of-school children back into education, while in Kenya a team of all-deaf British and Kenyan volunteers has been teaching sign language and helped to challenge stigma, meaning that, for the first time, deaf children can communicate with their classmates.
The programme is helping to forge lasting friendships between young people around the globe. Many Ministers of Health, Education and Finance around the world fondly remember being taught by the first cohorts of VSO volunteers in the 1960s and 1970s. I can predict that many future politicians, entrepreneurs and leaders around the world will be formed from this cadre of young national volunteers who have taken part in the ICS programme. The Government are currently looking at the options for what they will do with the next phase, and I hope very much that they will continue to recognise the lasting benefits that it can deliver. Some 99% of returned volunteers say that it was useful to their personal development; 74% attribute their current career plans to their experiences with ICS, and two-thirds remain actively involved in volunteering a year after their placement ends. There are, of course, other steps that could be taken by the Government to make volunteering easier, and I am sure that other speakers will deal with some of what is in place in this area, as well as the recent reports which have been produced. I want in particular to thank the organisations that work with young people. I have had a good briefing from vinspired and am only sorry that I do not have time to include more about its work.
Changes to the benefits system have created additional hurdles for those who may wish to volunteer, particularly people living on housing benefit, who risk losing access to their accommodation if they volunteer on programmes such as ICS. More work needs to be done with the Department for Work and Pensions to recognise the valuable impact that volunteering has on the skills development of young people, and that this message is filtered down to jobcentres. I was pleased to learn that the Secretary of State at DfID will be taking this up. For volunteer doctors, re-registering with the GMC upon their return can be a challenge after a long stint out of the UK, and we need to deal with that.
Volunteering is a very practical way for each of us to live our commitment to social change. So many of VSO’s volunteers, whatever their age or nationality, volunteer because they choose to take part personally in the change in society and the world they want to see. I will finish with just one challenge: for those journalists who have rightly brought to our attention the bad things some involved in charities have done. I say this to them: come and volunteer, and help to develop a culture that is open and accountable in these organisations, and find and contribute to the good things that people are involved in.
My Lords, the House owes a great debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness for giving us the chance, albeit briefly, to debate this matter. I am aware of her work with VSO and indeed I took part in the International Citizen Service in Tanzania and saw the terrific work it is doing. I also want to underline all the points she has made about the interaction with the Department for Work and Pensions.
During my remaining 100 seconds I would like to focus on the role of volunteering in getting unemployed people back into work. It is pretty hard for us here tonight to understand or fully appreciate the way that unemployment can sap the self-belief of individuals and replace it with a sense of hopelessness, and as a result the self-discipline needed to obtain and hold down a job in the commercial sector can ebb away. That is where voluntary groups can definitely help by giving these unlucky individuals a chance to re-enter the world of work from the shallow end of the pool, so to speak. That is extremely helpful to them and to society. What is not to like about that?
The role of the Department for Work and Pensions is, as the noble Baroness has said, absolutely critical. The guideline which states that someone can spend up to 50% of the time that is supposed to be used looking for work on volunteering without loss of benefits may appear very clear from the Olympian heights of Whitehall, but it is much less clear on the ground. When you get to individual jobcentres around the country, often the message has become more blurred. The concern among unemployed individuals that volunteering can put at risk their entitlement to universal credit and other benefits needs to be allayed. It can be allayed only if every—and I mean every—staff member in every jobcentre is properly briefed and trained.
When he comes to reply to the debate, I hope my noble friend will understand the importance of this and the points made by the noble Baroness about the Department for Work and Pensions as regards the ICS, as well as reassure the House that these issues will be tackled. They require constant attention because staff turnover means that, very often, they are not aware of what can be done and allowed; in those circumstances, unemployed people are worried about volunteering.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for giving us the opportunity to speak about volunteering.
In my city of Bristol, volunteers make a crucial contribution. As the noble Baroness said, volunteers inspire creativity and inspire people to change their behaviour: through mentors, as volunteers, as health champions and as volunteers growing produce on green space and selling it at reduced rates to encourage people to eat more fresh and healthy foods. There are cycling projects and projects that encourage people who are victims or in recovery to mentor other people and give them the understanding that they need; that happens particularly for people with multiple problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems. I would be happy to provide details for one of those projects, but obviously we do not have the time.
I am sure that across the country there are lots of ideas for creative, imaginative and transformative projects. In the recommendations of its report, Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society, the Select Committee on Charities talks about the development of regional context to address the local needs of people more closely, as well as provide more transparency of governance and perhaps more accountability. With the accent now on devolution to city regions, I wonder whether the Government might look at how this could help to get more volunteers—for example, whether it could be part of the local agreement with government. One example would be incentives to get more employers to give time off for volunteering—only 30% do so at the moment—and to increase the number of retired volunteers through post-career advice. Many retired people say that they would love to volunteer but they just do not know how to get the information and get into the right organisation.
We could also encourage more innovation. As I said, my city has plenty of imagination, creativity and enthusiasm, and I am sure that there are cities and regions like it across the country. I hope that we will build on that.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I want to draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register as a trustee of the Jecda Foundation. Over the last nine years, we have been steadily building an initiative to organise older volunteers to mentor children leaving care. We have called this initiative “Grandmentors”. It is intended to try to replicate the relationship that a grandparent would have with a youngster as they make their way to independence—finding education, housing or a job. The grandmentors support the children leaving care between the ages of 17 and their early 20s. This group represents the most vulnerable youngsters in our society. They have no hinterland of relations and nobody that they trust to talk to as they face the difficult choices involved in becoming an independent adult. That is the role of the grandmentor in our initiative. We have been working with Volunteering Matters, which I believe is the largest volunteering group in the country. Nesta also supports the initiative. We are now established in four separate local authorities and are starting up imminently in two more.
What have we learned? First, it is very hard to get to the youngsters who need the help the most. The solution that we eventually developed was to embed a worker in the social services department. Getting the right kind of money is hard. Both charitable donations and government grants can often be quite short term. For the Grandmentors project, continuity is vital. We need a three-year horizon to make sure that we do not let youngsters down just when they have found someone they can trust. Measurement of outcomes is vital. This is an area where volunteering initiatives often fall short. I am pleased to say that Volunteering Matters is making great strides.
Finally, this relationship really does seem to work. Jumping a generation means that the grandmentor is less judgmental and more supportive. We have seen some wonderful outcomes as a result. In conclusion, the paradox of volunteering is that, like anything else in the modern world, if it is to be effective it needs to be run with great professionalism.
My Lords, I draw attention to the entry in the Lords’ register under my name as chair of the McConnell International Foundation, partly because we are currently in the middle of our annual round of support for the Livingstone volunteers, named after David Livingstone, which seeks to support disadvantaged young Scots in international volunteering, giving them the same chance as those who come from better-off or more advantaged backgrounds. I will say something very briefly about full-time volunteering and international volunteering.
Full-time volunteering can make a huge difference to the lives of young people. Volunteering generally benefits society and creates stronger communities, but full-time volunteering can be, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, that step into work and better opportunities that can make such a difference for a young person, especially one who has been discarded in some sense in their teens. It is essential that the department responsible for social security continues to work hard to try to ensure that every young person will have the right to take part in full-time volunteering without being disadvantaged from any benefits that they might otherwise have had. When we set up Project Scotland back in 2005 we had ongoing problems with the department on the subject. I know that the National Citizen Service has had teething problems on this as well. I hope that the Government as a whole will provide as much support as they can.
International volunteering should not just be for those who can afford it or those who come from backgrounds where there are connections in that world. Supporting young people to have a chance to broaden their horizons and contribute internationally is an enormous opportunity that should be seized. The ICS has played a great role in this. I would welcome a statement in the Minister’s summing up on the timetable for the review of the International Citizen Service, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Armstrong, and when we will see some decisions on the next phase of that scheme. It takes about 12 months for a young person to apply, take part and follow up afterwards. The scheme is due to end in April 2019.
My Lords, I have been saddened and puzzled by the scandal that engulfed Oxfam last week and affected some of the other aid agencies. It has vast implications for volunteers worldwide. I have worked with several aid agencies and this makes me naturally defensive of Oxfam, though I fully appreciate the gravity of the charges. But I also feel indignation against those in the media and government who climb on their high horses and create the impression that the practice is widespread. It is not. The outcry, as Oxfam’s CEO has said, is far out of proportion to the problem. But of course it does provide a good opportunity to re-examine standards of behaviour in charities. There has to be a review at both DfID and charity level.
There is a wide divergence of individuals involved in aid giving. In times of crisis, trust and friendship may be stretched to the limit. When it comes to moral standards, we here assume an international code that simply does not exist: every community has its own culture. The phrase “voluntary agencies” is less used now precisely because standards and regulations have been introduced that do not always apply to volunteers. While you can insist on standards upheld by staff it is nearly impossible to expect the same degree of responsibility of other related groups and partner organisations, and of the individuals who may be best placed to help.
Finally, in our family home in Dorset we have 17 wonderful volunteers. If we did not have them—they are retired teachers, NHS staff and others interested in heritage—we simply would not survive as a business. It has become part of their life. We learn a lot from their wisdom, acquired knowledge and skills in looking after people. These are skills needed all over the world. We know that the need worldwide is enormous— 6 million children live in areas of conflict. Volunteers, alongside aid workers, are essential in meeting that need.
I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, has secured this fascinating debate on volunteering, which has been part of my life from an early age. My mother worked for many years as a mental health volunteer. I remember helping her in the charity’s shop in Salisbury and, best of all, painting and decorating halfway houses for mental patients coming out of care, freeing up beds for others. I still give my clothes to the successor shop and I recollect that one of her biggest problems was with the Charity Commission, which was slow at approving the purchase of these halfway houses. I used to walk for Shelter at school and, as part of my charitable work at Tesco, ran—or tried to run—for 11 years in Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, as part of an effort that raised more than £400 million.
These examples show, first, the value to the individual of charitable engagement. We learn new competences or, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, get back into work. Secondly, they show the substantial sums of money that can be raised, especially with the backing of a big corporate. Companies can also move very fast. I remember being the first donor to the Thailand tsunami, allowing the Red Cross to fly out immediate supplies. Thirdly, volunteering is good for us morally: it is good to think of others and often good physically as well.
Finally, I want to talk about the Trussell Trust, based in Salisbury. It provides food banks, and I first came across the trust in Liverpool in the wake of the financial crisis. It relies heavily on volunteers and I have seen moving testimony of the positive effect that volunteering has had on them. What the trust does, in a no-nonsense, modest way, is provide support for those who suddenly fall into real difficulty, such that they and their dependants cannot see where to go or where the next meal will come from. It has branched out, but that is its fundamental purpose.
We should admire the extensive efforts made by many people in volunteering to help others. We need more engagement in volunteering and in charity work by more people. They will enjoy it and bring in valuable funds. But practical enthusiasm from individuals is the single most important thing we need.
My Lords, in thanking my noble friend, I recognise her huge commitment to overseas volunteering. It is a commitment I share, and I strongly support her comments today.
In my few words I want to reinforce two points that I made earlier this year in the debate on the contribution that charities make to civil society. First, however, I want to recognise volunteering work in our universities, since we are halfway through national student volunteer week. I declare an interest as a council member of Nottingham Trent University. At NTU, students and staff are actively encouraged to volunteer in both local and global communities. The communities benefit and the students benefit and acquire broader employment skills. Volunteering promotes social mobility. As NCVO reminds us, young people who volunteer are better prepared for the world of work. At NTU, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are particularly encouraged to volunteer, since the university’s own research shows that students who volunteer considerably outperform non-participants. For NTU staff, the university gives time off for volunteering work—for example, as charity trustees or school governors—which makes a significant contribution to their development and direction, while also helping to develop higher-level skills.
Statutory time off is my wider point. The Charities Select Committee’s recent call for consultation on statutory time off for charity trustees seemed to fall on deaf ears. Putting trusteeships on the same footing as other public duties, such as school governorships or magistracy, would broaden the range of people volunteering and would increase diversity and take-up. It would help smaller charities. Can the Minister tell us whether the civil society strategy’s listening exercise will reconsider this issue? Will the strategy consider how the Government can support employer-backed volunteering? Employers have a role to play in encouraging people to incorporate volunteering into their lives, and further government support would make a huge difference. Let us reduce barriers to volunteering to ensure that more people can contribute to their communities.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for introducing this subject. I declare an interest as a lord-lieutenant and therefore involved with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. I will talk about recognition and people understanding the importance of the volunteer. We are a country of volunteers—17 million of them.
The Government should concentrate on improving existing mechanisms for promoting the importance of volunteering, and not invent new ones. From my practical experience, I have some simple suggestions. The QAVS team in DCMS is two people. The Government should increase this to five, as for the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, which is roughly the same sort of award. The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service was introduced to reward groups, including those with as few members as three. However, the assessment criteria are now too complicated and result in many more awards to larger volunteer groups rather than to smaller volunteer groups, which is what the award was largely designed for. Awareness of the QAVS is not widespread, even in more obvious instances. This is an issue for the Government.
The National Council for Volunteer Organisations—the NCVO—sent out a brief for this debate. I contacted the sender and he was unaware of the QAVS. I went with a committee to Toynbee Hall recently and the people there were unaware of it. The NCVO runs the annual Volunteers’ Week in early June. Few of the public and only volunteer organisations registered with it seem to be aware of that week at all. Why do the Government not sponsor cheap sticky badges like cancer charities or the RNLI do to be worn during that week and raise the awareness dramatically? We do not raise it when we are talking about Brexit and other things. But that is volunteer week.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the Uniting Communities programme run by the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, which is incredibly important. In a nutshell, it is developing groups of 16 to 24 year-old volunteers from very difficult surroundings and backgrounds to be recruiters and mentors of volunteers in the future. These suggestions are all low-cost, especially when you take into account that in 2014 the Office for National Statistics estimated the value of volunteers at £23 billion. That is 1.3% of GDP.
My Lords, let me tell your Lordships about Benwell in the west end of Newcastle. It is one of the most deprived areas in the country, with 37% of children living in poverty. It is home to one of the largest food banks in the UK, which featured in the Ken Loach film, “I, Daniel Blake”. In his film, Loach deliberately used the real-life food bank volunteers as extras. Kathy, committed volunteer and a reader in her church, featured in the film. Kathy volunteers at the food bank because she knows what it is like to be hungry. She volunteers at the citizens advice bureau because she knows how complicated the benefits system is. She volunteers in the local school because school was one of the few sources of hope in her own difficult childhood.
Kathy is not a one-off. Just down the road from the food bank, at St James Church, Pat, Anne and Elsie have all been awarded MBEs for volunteering in their local community. Benwell is not a one-off. The Church Urban Fund Church in Action survey shows that it is churches in the most deprived areas of our country that are the most active in contributing to social action in the community. Kathy, Pat, Anne and Elsie and many, many others like them make the most extraordinary impact in the communities they serve. But something else beyond that happens, too: volunteers themselves have their lives transformed, growing in confidence and a sense of self-worth. The asylum seekers who volunteer at the food bank are not allowed to work for money but they do know the dignity of making a difference in the community.
This month, the north-east is celebrating the 20th birthday of the “Angel of the North”. To mark this, Newcastle diocese has launched a My Angel of the North campaign, asking for nominations to recognise and honour the unsung heroes in our communities. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Government will do all they can to honour and resource our volunteers, especially those in our most deprived communities.
I, too, thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate. I refer to my interests in the register as a trustee of a number of charities. I am sure we are all in agreement in recognising that the level of volunteering taking place is a measure of our society’s moral and spiritual well-being. We can measure it in many ways, for which, sadly, this short debate does not provide sufficient time. So how can we promote its importance?
Promoting volunteering is best done early. Requiring schools to have their young people do more community service will make them more aware of the existence of and need for charities. It could foster a lifelong involvement and this might encourage their parents to become involved as well. The National Citizen Service programme is a positive step in this direction, but I feel that it could be increased in its time commitment and the age of its participants. Can the Minister give a figure as to how many active NCS participants there are currently and how this compares to the figure forecast for 2018?
We need to recalibrate Kennedy’s,
“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”, to try to persuade people that it is incumbent on everyone to put something back into society and not always instinctively look to the public purse. There is sometimes a negative view of volunteering: that it is a cheap alternative to public or private sector jobs. But with our demographics being what they are—fewer working people supporting more retired people—we must encourage more of the over-60s to volunteer in some way. Can we not give some sort of tax credit against the evidence of their so doing—a credit, incidentally, that they would not have to exercise if they are not so inclined and feel it conflicts directly with the fundamental credo of volunteering?
On the level of self-esteem, come the time of the next 10-year census can we not ask the Government to include a work category of volunteer? It will assist the authorities in having a more accurate number of those who are giving of their time freely, and give individuals the private satisfaction of having some official recognition of their contribution. If I may finish on a personal and most positive note, during my year as high sheriff I had occasion to ask people, the majority of whom I had not even met, to help with a wide range of voluntary activities. I never experienced a refusal.
My Lords, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park volunteering programme, Park Champions, started as a result of wanting to harness the spirit and energy demonstrated by the Games makers during 2012. I must declare an interest as a director of the London Legacy Development Corporation and as the chairman of its regeneration and communities committee.
We have used this programme, which has involved many hundreds of local people and impacted on thousands of lives, to build long-term relationships between local people and the new park and place. We have understood that volunteering is a good route, but by no means the only one, to help improve personal well-being and community resilience. We have used volunteering as a pathway towards increased skills and employability. We have focused on first-time volunteers and on ensuring that we offer a fully inclusive volunteer programme, which has low barriers to entry, as well as proactively supporting those with physical disabilities, mental health problems and learning difficulties.
We have purposefully grown a strong network of local volunteers who embody the pride and positivity they feel for their park and this part of London. One hundred and twenty-four of our Park Champions have gained accredited training through their volunteering roles; a further 33 have benefited from employment support and another 36 have gone on to secure employment as a direct result of their volunteering roles and experience. The lessons learned are: first, the value of co-production and of designing the programme with volunteers as much as possible; secondly, the benefit of offering a range of pick-and-mix volunteer opportunities; and, thirdly, the power of “thank you” and a recognition of the importance of relationships. Our Park Champions have become a huge additional team on the park who both care about the place and welcome others. Successful volunteer programmes are all about people and relationships, and a sense of purpose.
Come and spend a day on the Olympic park this spring and see what we have been getting up to in east London since 2012. Your Lordships will see an entrepreneurial response to the issues of Olympic legacy—the most successful legacy in the history of the Games—and I suggest that our approach to volunteers is a clue to this success. There may also be helpful clues here regarding the actions of the public, business and voluntary sectors, and for government, in the actions we all need to take going forward.
My Lords, I refer your Lordships to my charitable interests in the register. For six years I had the good fortune to be the voluntary director-general of one of this country’s major volunteer charities, the St John Ambulance. It was created in late Victorian times for the best of all reasons: it was seriously needed. Life in most workplaces was extremely dangerous and medical help was sparse so there was a great need for industrial communities to practise self-help and learn the techniques of first aid. St John Ambulance personnel are still needed as much as ever today in public places, as they were, for instance, at the Hillsborough stadium disaster which involved St John Ambulance volunteers in my time.
Our fathers’ generation retired at the age of 65 and looked forward to perhaps five to 10 more years of active life. Now extraordinary advances in medicine in past decades mean that living to 80 or 90 is commonplace. Our population is therefore becoming older with all the huge difficulties of care that this will bring, and so I believe that we are going to have to learn once again, as did our Victorian forefathers, to look after each other in our homes and communities far more than we do at present, as our health professionals will be even more severely stretched than they are now. There is no better way for this to happen than the development of more voluntary organisations to add to the many excellent ones that we have already in this country.
I have spent a lot of time in recent years visiting schools and FE colleges, and I am always gratified to see evidence of the voluntary work that some of their students do. However, we need a fresh national initiative to bring a new culture of volunteering to schools and colleges. If far more youngsters can be encouraged by their schools to give an hour or so each week to voluntary work in healthcare areas, our society would be better able to meet the great challenges that an ageing population will bring.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for initiating this debate, and I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests as a trustee of several charities. I have listened to the debate carefully and find myself in enormous agreement with virtually everything that has been said. I believe passionately in helping the disadvantaged, and I also believe that while some people can do that through philanthropy and money, others who do not have the means to do that can do it through the gift of time. Most of us should be able to do one or the other and if we are really lucky, both.
In my younger days as a student, I was a volunteer in a youth voluntary group in Manchester. It was probably one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done. It was nothing glamorous. We painted elderly people’s homes, tidied their gardens and helped out in schools for the disabled. In many cases, the main thing we did was alleviate loneliness, particularly that of the elderly, who just needed someone to talk to. It taught me that many things that many of us take for granted are not necessarily the case, such as that good health for all and a well-functioning brain and body are not universal but really are blessings, as is the opportunity to be surrounded by friends and family. It also led me to meet a lovely young lady whom I married a few years later. I guess that after nearly 40 years of blissful life together I can safely say that volunteering probably did more for me than it did for the supposed beneficiaries.
Since then, I have continued to volunteer, as has my wife. I look back now and I see that in those days volunteering was relatively easy. There was no real vetting or CRB checks, and while I entirely understand that some subsequent events have proved the need for safeguarding, will the Minister see if there is anything the Government can do to streamline some of the red tape needed to protect the vulnerable, as some of it possibly reduces the level of volunteering, particularly among the young, who tend to do casual volunteering? I have some ideas, but I will share them with the Minister later as time has run out.
My hope is that in my lifetime volunteering becomes normalised across the UK so that everyone can benefit from it in the ways I did and I know my fellow volunteers and recipients do.
My Lords, I congratulate my fellow VSO friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, on this debate, and I declare my interest.
The Government’s flagship volunteering scheme is the National Citizen Service, funded at the unprecedented level of £1.25 billion between 2016 and 2020 and put on the basis of a royal charter body despite the lack of a convincing case to do so. It is a very controversial scheme about which there are many questions and over which parliamentarians have to exercise a degree of vigilance. I therefore read the NCS Trust’s annual report for 2016-17, in which I note that yet again it missed its targets and its very high unit costs remain static.
I have three questions for the Minister. I do not expect him to be able to answer them today, but I shall put them to him and await his answers. First, in 2016-17 the NCS generated a surplus of income over expenditure of £4.1 million. How much of that was from the NCS’s government income? How much will be returned to the Government and how much will go into the NCS’s reserves?
Secondly, the NCS Trust states that it has access to government databases to allow it to highlight eligible young people. During the passage of the Bill, Parliament was told that NCS would be allowed to send messages and mailings to 16 and 17 year-olds via HMRC. There was no mention of it having access to government databases. Could the Minister explain what form this access takes and which databases are put at the disposal of NCS?
Lastly, another question arising from the annual report: two members of staff, the chief executive and the marketing and communications director, receive remuneration of between £125,000 and £130,000 per annum, while six other staff receive remuneration in excess of £80,000. That is for running a single programme, the majority of the funding for which comes from the Government. How does this represent value for taxpayers’ money? This is a very high-profile scheme and it should be able to withstand detailed scrutiny. Given the amount of investment in it, Parliament ought to be responsible for ensuring that that scrutiny happens.
My Lords, I seem to have measured out my life in volunteering, and it is with great pleasure that I come to this debate. I thank my noble friend, who is both noble and, as it happens, my friend, for tabling it and giving us this opportunity to speak on the subject.
As I look back over a colourful life, I see the faces of the groups of people who, in such a wide spread of the activities in the voluntary sector, have brought a smile to people’s faces and hope to the lives that they live, and a sense of purpose to those helping in this way—school governors; food banks; prison visiting; chauffeurs to hospital appointments; pastoral care; good neighbourliness; homeless, especially the street homeless; hospitals and daycare centres; addiction of various kinds; HIV/AIDS; running a museum; and organising for people who would be lonely on Christmas Day an opportunity to be with others and have some fun.
I could go on: there is the Haiti Support Group and, the one of which I am proud, the Boys’ Brigade—of which I am the president, as is recorded in the register—which gives tens of thousands across all the countries of these islands meaningful endeavour and adventure and a great sense of fun and purpose.
I want also to say how proud I am that I am the father-in-law of a young woman who spent three years in Pakistan with VSO; the father of a daughter who spent three years in China and then 10 in Cambodia doing voluntary work much of the time; and the father of a son who has served much time, and indeed is still serving, as a school governor. In all those ways, I can personally testify again and again to the benefits of these activities.
I have two points to make—very quickly, because I see that my time has gone. First, I have noticed that when schemes are begun by volunteers and eventually taken over by professionals, tension emerges. Secondly, when school governors are to become directors of academies, different skills and attitudes prevail. Those are questions that need answering, and I offer them for what they are worth.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for calling this debate on such an important topic and the many contributors this evening. I fear that the length of time allowed was testament to the interest in the subject.
The latest Community Life Survey suggests that nearly two-thirds of adults engage in formal or informal volunteering at least once a year, and 22% said that they had taken part in formal volunteering at least once a month. People volunteer because they want to make a difference to the lives of others, to gain skills or build social networks.
I want to show tonight that the Government recognise the huge importance of volunteering as one way that people can tackle some of the greatest social challenges of our time and contribute to building thriving communities. We recognise the value of volunteering through not only the difference made to those we volunteer for but the improved wellbeing of the people who take on these roles in their community. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe clearly explained the benefits in her speech.
That is why we celebrate inspirational volunteers through Points of Light, the Prime Minister’s daily award, which shines a light on volunteering as a force for good. These awards showcase inspirational individuals making an outstanding contribution to their communities and encourages others to follow in their footsteps. We have already celebrated 896 UK winners to date, including, for example 13 year-old Sofia Crockatt, who has raised more than £40,000 for the Meningitis Research Foundation after the charity supported her and her family.
The Government are striving to promote a society where volunteering is celebrated and valued. We support new and innovative ideas for involving even more people in their communities. Since we created the National Citizen Service, for example—I shall come to the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, in a minute—more than 400,000 young people have donated 12 million hours of their time to serve others in their communities. We also support Step Up to Serve’s #iwill campaign to encourage a lifetime habit of volunteering by providing more social action opportunities for young people from all backgrounds.
The Government are committed to removing barriers to volunteering, and that is why the independent full-time social action review was set up to look at the challenges and benefits of young people committing to full-time volunteering. Those findings are now being reviewed to see how participation can be increased in future. I shall say a bit more about that later if I have time.
Since 2013, more than £36 million has been invested in the Centre for Social Action to harness the power of social action and put it at the heart of communities and public services. The centre supports innovative ideas for bringing volunteering into public service delivery, concentrating on the roles that are shown to make the most impact in a variety of sectors. For example, through the Q-Volunteering programme, volunteers complement the work of clinical staff to ease pressures on the NHS. To help improve the scale and diversity of volunteering in sport, Sport England launched two new volunteering funds worth £6 million to create meaningful volunteering opportunities for people from economically disadvantaged communities.
The Government are also investing in volunteering for older people, which the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, talked about, and provided £7 million of grant funding to charities which are mobilising the time and talents of people over 50 in high-impact volunteering roles in partnership with Nesta. More research is currently being carried out with the Centre for Ageing Better into what barriers to volunteering older people face and what more can be done to remove them.
In the time I have, I shall try to answer some of the points that noble Lords raised. I start with the National Citizen Service, which the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said was very controversial. I agree with some things she said, but I do not agree with that. I know that she had issues with it and has been very open about that, and I said at the Bill’s Third Reading that I pay tribute to her for consistently bringing those points up. I agree that it should be capable of receiving scrutiny. I am very grateful to for saying that I could reply to her points in detail in writing, because we could spend a lot of time talking about the National Citizen Service. I will copy my replies to noble Lords who took part in the debate.
My noble friend Lord Freud talked about Grandmentors. DCMS is funding Volunteering Matters to scale up Grandmentors through the Centre for Social Action. The centre supports organisations to spread their social action projects in a sustainable way, which is an important point. An evaluation is also a core part of all of the centre’s grants to grantees so they can effectively measure their outcomes. I shall come to another more strategic issue, which he also says is important, in my concluding remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, talked about full-time volunteering. I mentioned full-time volunteering and the benefits that it can bring, and I wanted to say a bit about the full-time social action review, which was published on
My noble friend Lord Lingfield talked about schools, which will offer opportunities for their pupils to undertake volunteering, often working with national bodies such as Step Up To Serve or by creating their own links with local organisations. The Department for Education also works closely with the National Citizen Service on that, and will pilot a number of innovation pilots within the opportunity areas.
The right reverend Prelate talked about supporting disadvantaged communities, and I can reassure her that we think that is important. For example, the community organisers programme is kick-starting a grass-roots movement for change in England’s most deprived neighbourhoods. In this Parliament, Her Majesty’s Government have invested £4.2 million in expanding the number of organisers to 10,000.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson has wide experience in these matters, and I acknowledge and pay tribute to all that he has done, even though we have not always done everything that he asked us to. The ongoing interventions in jobcentres are, of course, important. Work coaches carry out diagnostic questioning to understand the claimant’s circumstances and, when there is lack of work experience, for example, they may encourage claimants to carry out some voluntary work. All jobcentre staff are strained to be aware of this. But I take his points on board and will bring them to the attention of the DWP—and I note that the DWP Minister was here to hear his remarks.
My noble friend Lord Colgrain asked about the DCMS numbers and participants. Some 75,595 took part in 2015 and just under 100,000 young people in 2017, which did actually miss the target of 101,000. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, also mentioned targets, and I shall address that in my letter to her. The fact remains that the NCS is still the fastest growing youth movement in this country for over a century.
The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, talked about devolution. The £4.5 million place-based social action programme will create positive change for people, communities and local organisations by creating a shared vision for their place and addressing local priorities through social action, including volunteering. She also referred to older volunteering, which I have already mentioned. The DCMS has invested £7 million to boost volunteering for people over 50.
The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, mentioned the International Citizen Service review. I will have to write to both of them; it is a DfID matter and I am not completely up on that, I am afraid.
I want to finish, if I may, by looking to the future. Civil society has developed significantly over the past decade, becoming more diverse than ever before. We have seen the rise of new ways to fundraise, a greater focus on grass-roots initiatives, increasingly flexible ways to volunteer, the rise of social media and digital and an ever growing inclusive economy. For this reason, the Minister for Civil Society, Tracey Crouch, has announced her intention to deliver a civil society strategy, which will provide a clear vision for the Government’s work with and for civil society. We will shortly be launching an engagement exercise which will inform this work. People from all across the country are encouraged to take part in the conversation, whether they are a young volunteer, a charity trustee, a social enterprise employee or an active member of a local community—and indeed noble Lords, who have demonstrated such knowledge and commitment tonight. The strategy will reaffirm the tremendous value that the Government place on this vital contribution and strive to work with and for civil society as a whole to support it in delivering its invaluable work.